Salafis, Jihadis, and the Revolution in Syria

by Brian Slocums on December 19, 2012

A significant development in the Syrian struggle over the last six months has been the increased role of salafi-jihadist groups operating outside the framework of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). I use this awkward phrase salafi-jihadist in order to try and accurately distinguish different currents – not all jihadis – i.e. those who use the slogan of “jihad” – are salafist, and not all salafists are jihadis.

This phenomenon has been thrown into sharp relief by the by the U.S. decision to designate the most well-known of these groups – Jabhat al Nusra – as a “terrorist” organisation” and the widespread objections that this has evoked among the Syrian opposition.

So, how important are these developments and what problems do they pose for the future of the Syrian revolution?

I have worked my way through most of the sources on Syrian “jihadism” in English available on the internet, and this is my take on the issue.

The topography of military groups in Syria is very complex. The main unit of organisation is the katibat (usually translated as battalion), a small operational unit of fighters, usually drawn from the same locality, of which there are several hundred. These are sometimes coordinated by the formation of Liwa (brigades) made up of several katiba, but most often by the formation of local military councils (the main command structure of the FSA.) There are various efforts at wider coordination of the struggle – most recently in the formation of a “Supreme Military Council” on December 8 – but it’s not clear what authority, if any this has on the ground.

For example, in Aleppo, there is an FSA military council, a large group of fighters drawn from the moderate Islamist Liwa al-Tawhid, which is loosely associated with the FSA, a joint council between these two organisations, and a large number of individual katiba, many of whom have salafist views.

It’s difficult to establish precise numbers for these forces but drawing on various sources but my “best guess” would be that total rebel forces in Syria number around 50,000; of which some 30,000 come under the FSA military councils, another 10,000 are loosely coordinated with them, and further 10,000 are in autonomous fighting units. It’s in this latter group that loosely categorized “salafist” groups are to be found and they probably comprise about 5,000-6,000 fighters (some 10% of the total), including the vast majority of the 1,200-1,500 foreign fighters in the country. Beyond the salafist groups are a wide range of independent units who espouse a broad spectrum of Islamist values. (This is constantly shifting ground – for example, the moderate Islamist Liwa al-Umma, led by Irish-Libyan fighter and Tripoli Brigade commander Mahdi Harati, which claims 6,000 fighters, declared in September that they were coming under the FSA banner.)

Colonel Riad al-Asaad announces FSA is moving its headquarters into Syria flanked by FSA, Liwa al Ummah, and Tripoli Brigade flags

Even with these three cases some qualification is needed: only Jabhat al-Nusra identifies with the global jihadi movement and has a significant proportion (estimated at 20%) of foreign fighters. While it is frequently labelled an “al-Qaeda affiliate” the evidence for this is slim: only the fact that it been hailed by al-Qaeda figures and uses al-Qaeda jihadi Web sites to publicise its activities. The other groups seem to be somewhat eclectic, focused strongly on the situation in Syria, and combining nationalist symbols with jihadist ones.

What is more important than the number of fighters these groups embrace is the role they have taken on in the conflict. Bringing in military skills (especially in the use of explosives) from their experience in other conflicts like Iraq, and with a high degree of cohesion and discipline, they have been able to provide the FSA with a means of countering the armoured power of the Assad forces, and allowed them to be the authors of a number of recent striking military victories, like the capture of the Sheikh Suleiman airforce base. They have also been aided by the fact that many have a logistical advantage through privileged support from external supporters, particularly the Gulf states. This ready access to weapons and reputation for discipline has often proved attractive to the new wave of young fighters from rural areas, who entered the struggle without military experience after the Houla massacre of July 2012. It is this probably more than anything else that has altered the balance between the predominantly “nationalist-democratic” current who formed the original FSA and the new more “Islamist” forces.

This emergence of salafist groups takes place in the context of a wider “Islamisation” of the whole Syrian struggle – faced with such a bitter and asymmetrical conflict, young fighters have turned to their religion for courage and comfort, and for models of how to organise themselves and their communities (often embracing the notion of “jihad”).

Varied Islamist Voices

But it must be emphasised that this “Islamisation” of the struggle does not mean its dominance by salafist organisations or ideas. The predominant values here are the conservative Sunni Islam of the Syrian countryside:

“Most rebels don’t have clear answers for what they mean when they say they are Islamist or want an Islamic state. ‘We want to build a state where our citizens are equal, Muslims and minorities,’ said the young rebel Anwar, as he watched an Islamic TV station from a safe house in Aleppo. ‘We want to be able to choose our own future, not have it be determined by poverty or our religion.’ ”

Indeed, many who espouse those values are openly hostile to the salalfi-jihadists, and eschew sectarian visions of Syria’s future:

“Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Christians, all of us are in one state and are one people, and we are all equals like the teeth of a comb. We are all one,    there are minorities but they have rights, just as I have rights … there is no difference between a Christian or [anyone else] … they all have the right of citizenship in this land”. (Abd al-Qader al-Saleh of the Liwa al-Tawhid quoted in ICG Middle East Report 131)

Here’s another voice:

“I spoke to the regional commander of the Farouq brigade [usually listed as among the Islamic groups], a muscular young lieutenant from the southern province of Dara’a called Abdullah Abu Zaid. ‘I will not allow the spread of Takfiri [the act of accusing other Muslims of apostasy] ideology,’ he told me in his military compound a few kilometres from the border post. ‘Not now, not later. The Islam we had during the regime was disfigured Islam and what they are bringing us is also disfigured. The Islam we need is a civil Islam and not the takfiri Islam.’ ” (Guardian, Sept. 23 2012)

The Salafists

There appear to be only three significant groups fighting in Syria which can clearly be considered “salafist-jihadist”:

The Ahrar al Shams Brigades, Syria’s largest jihadi grouping, with up to 2,000 members.

The Jabhat al-Nusra Front, referred to above, which reportedly has 300 or so members fighting in Aleppo, suggesting that its total numbers are less than 1,000.

The Liwa-al Islam, which emerged in the Damascus region in 2012, and claimed responsibility for the bombing of the National Security Office in Damascus on 18 July, which killed three senior officials, including the defence minister and Assad’s brother-in-law.

A map of the wider network of Syrian salafist groups and a rather negative evaluation of the current situation has recently been made by Aron Lund in Foreign Policy. Lund makes several valid points in his analysis, but in my view the article is one-sided and strays towards sensationalism (the longer report on which it is based is better in this respect). A more nuanced picture is provided by the latest International Crisis Group Briefing, summarised here.

Syrian Realities and Western Myopia

I’d like to close this discussion by referring to the experience of Jacques Beres, the co-founder of the medical charity Medicins sans Frontieres, which tells us a bit about the situation in Syria and a lot about western preoccupations. Beres has visited Syria three times since the start of the revolution to provide surgical skills in the combat zones. In August 2012 he spent two weeks in the centre of war-torn Aleppo and on his return he gave several interviews to the media in France and Britain. He discussed at length his experiences – calling attention the bombing of queues outside bakeries, and the large-scale loss of life; he also made the observation that half of the combatants he treated appeared to be jihadists. How were his remarks reported?

  • “Jihadists join Aleppo fight, eye Islamic state, surgeon says” (Reuters)
  • “Jacques Beres treated French jihadists” (French radio)
  • “Most of Aleppo’s fighters are foreigners” (Breaking News Network)

(For the record Beres treated two French jihadists out of several hundred injured, and repeatedly insisted that the combatants he treated were jihadists not foreigners.)

It took more than 10 days until Mary Fitzgerald of the Irish Times managed to tell it like it was: “The world has blood of the Syrian people on its hands”:

Beres has operated in war zones, including Vietnam, Rwanda and Iraq, for 40 years, but he says the carnage in Syria is among the most horrific he has ever seen. …

“The main reason why the jihadists are coming, and why the Salafists will probably have influence after Assad falls, is that nobody else has helped the Syrian people.”

I can’t think of a better epitaph for this piece.

More from The North Star:

Brian Slocums is a retired social scientist and was a militant in the Canadian and British Trotskyist movement over many years. He is now politically unaffiliated but retains a firm commitment to socialist values, while accepting the need to rethink the means through which they can best be realized.

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

A Libyan Rebel December 19, 2012 at 11:51 pm

Yet another accurate analysis of a topic mired in confusion and or misinformation. It is with no doubt that the strong appearance of the religious groups and the increasing religiosity among the Syrian people and the rebels was mainly due to the fact that they had no other choice. The first image in this article is enough to sum up the whole ordeal. The brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations early in the revolution and the continuous, unimaginable scale of the massacres by the criminal regime, coupled with the blatant disregard by world powers forced many chivalrous men around the Arab and Muslim world to leave everything behind and head straight to the harsh, bloody battlefields of the Syrian revolution. Among these people are a few dozen (up to a few hundred at most) of battle-hardened Islamist fighters with experience fighting the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviets, Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. and experience fighting against some of the many totalitarian regimes in the region. Though these individuals remain a minority among foreign fighters in Syria, their strong ideology and extensive battlefield experience makes them the elite force of the Syrian revolution and the most painful for the regime.

The most prominent (and possibly the only) group encompassing mostly foreign Islamist fighters is indeed “Jabhat Al-Nusrah” meaning the “Victors’ Front” and “victors” is the closest English term I could think of which in this case means those who come to the aid those in need. What makes this group stand out despite its small size is the type of operations it carries out. Most of the group’s major operations are “martyrdom” or suicide operations involving a fighter driving a car laden with explosives into a regime military base or a checkpoint manned by “shabbiha” (regime thugs). These operations were used effectively in Iraq and Afghanistan against foreign military targets and the group is employing the same tactic resulting in great physical and mental devastation on regime forces. The group refuses to affiliate itself with the Free Syrian Army due to the FSA’s diverse spectrum of ideologies some of which do not concord with the group’s strict Islamist identity. This is a cause of concern for some Syrians and those who are looking toward a free, democratic nation. Being a Libyan rebel however and following the fate of similar groups in Libya I can say with confidence that once the revolution is over, the group will have to succumb to the will of the people. The Arab Spring changed the dynamic of the struggle in the region and has transformed the conflicts from being those of dictator/occupation vs. jihadi groups to those of massive popular uprisings sweeping away totalitarian regimes and quickly shunning away any forces seen as a threat to the ambitions of the people.

The other two major religious leaning groups in Syria are “Ahrar Sham” and “Liwa Al-Tawheed”. These two groups are many times larger and more active than “Jabhat Al-Nusrah” and comprise almost wholly of Syrian youth and with a negligible foreign presence. These groups are far more moderate than the Nusrah Front and have shown a great degree of tolerance toward other, non-religious leaning groups. Though not officially affiliated with the FSA, these groups have shown willingness to collaborate with the FSA and have carried out numerous joint operations with others. These two groups have made it clear through comments made by their leaders on numerous occasions that their job ends with the defeat of the regime and that they will accept any form of government chosen by the Syrian people.

In terms of sheer numbers however, the great majority of Syrian rebels belong to the Free Syrian Army. Almost every city in Syria has some kind of local FSA presence. This usually starts with defections of the sons of the city or town who then quickly grow to form a resistance force in the area. The FSA is made up of thousands of defected soldiers and thousands of ordinary Syrian men who have taken up arms to liberate their country. In addition to those, there are dozens of FSA groups representing a wide spectrum of ideologies some are religious leaning and some liberal. There are also mixed groups such as “Liwa Al-Ummah” which was started with a few dozen Libyan fighters of no dominant ideology and has now grown to several thousand members mostly Syrians. All of these groups consider themselves the military arm for the political opposition and are under the leadership of Colonel Riad Al-As’ad.

Despite the media uproar, the identities of the Syrian rebels are widely known to the Syrian people and to those who monitor the situation there. Vilifying some of the groups who have come to the Aid of the Syrian people when the rest of the world turned a blind eye to their plight will only further strengthen Syrians’ negative sentiment toward the West and may cause for future divisions among the opposition that would likely make the transitioning period much more difficult. As a Libyan who had witnessed the events of the 17 of Feb Revolution first hand, Syria is a similar recipe and despite the anticipated bumps along the road, I strongly believe that Syria is in good hands.


Arthur December 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm

There is a huge difference between pointing out that the world’s shameful inactivity will produce thousands of bin laden’s and imagining that the bin laden’s military skills are useful to the revolution.

They did enormous damage in Iraq until they were crushed there and they will do enormous damage in Syria until they are crushed in Syria. Put simply they are fascist mass murderers just like the Assadists.

BTW a better term than “salafi-jihadis” is “takfiris”. That isn’t adequate either but its widely understood, even among most salafis that the people who want to kill their opponents as apostates have to be isolated and defeated.


Aaron Aarons December 23, 2012 at 12:24 am

I note Arthur’s uncompromising hostility to certain people whom he describes as “fascist mass murderers”. Regardless of the degree of truth of that characterization of certain jihadis or (2) ‘Assasists’, what is significant is that Arthur doesn’t condemn the real mass murderers loose in the world: the imperialist capitalists and the armed forces who make it possible for them to loot the world.

Or maybe the killing of tens of thousands of children every day doesn’t count as mass murder because it isn’t done primarily with bombs and bullets, but with bank notes and ballot boxes.


Aaron Aarons December 30, 2012 at 2:25 am

In case it’s not obvious, the phrase, “certain jihadis or (2) ‘Assasists’”, should have read “certain jihadis or ‘Assadists’”.


Aaron Aarons December 23, 2012 at 9:42 am

Let me ask you a direct question, Arthur:

Can you point to situations where you and/or your close collaborators (Patrick, Anita, et al.) have denounced, in whatever words but with comparable persistence, “the world’s shameful inactivity” regarding crimes committed by the United States, its Western imperialist allies, their financial and other international institutions, and/or their capitalist enterprises (including, especially, agribusiness and mining)?


Brian S. December 23, 2012 at 2:03 pm

@Arthur On the issue of labels: There is never a “right” answer to these questions – the only solution is to settle on preferred terms, define them clearly, and apply them consistently. “Salafi-jihadist” has gained a certain currency in academic circles, so I have gone with that. But I won’t quibble if you prefer something else – so long as we both agree what we are talking about.
I would be careful about reading Syria through the lense of Iraq (that it seems to me is Patrick Cockburn’s problem) – as far as I can see the Syrian salafist-jihadis have not signed up to the Al Qaeda programme of global jihad; although there do seem to be some confirmed cases of sectarian actions by these groups (e.g. burning down Shia mosques; differrntial rules for treatment of Sunni and Alawi captives.), my feeling is that these could be managed by a post-Assad Syrian revolutionary regime , without any “crushing”. Indeed, I thnk that the greater danger is a US-induced premature confrontation between moderate Islamist and salafist forces.


patrickm December 26, 2012 at 12:59 am

Brian you say ‘I think that the greater danger is a US-induced premature confrontation between moderate Islamist and salafist forces’ and that people ought to be ‘…careful about reading Syria through the lense of Iraq…’ .

The forces fighting Assad’s troops will not want to fight on two fronts unless forced to by the actions of the more extreme god-bothering ‘Takfiris’, but it is exactly these fascists that will keep others fighting on Assad’s side longer than they would if it were clear that they were not going to be slaughtered and oppressed by the anti-Assad united front; and the truth is that Takfiris do want to slaughter and oppress as they have demonstrated for years in Iraq and often based out of Syria.

Takfiris were exactly the people that the misguided left refused to support being crushed in Iraq. For years there was never any unity with the elected Iraqi political forces and the revolutionary army that was being built in Iraq! Instead the Takfiri inflicted death toll is to this day added to the ‘sins’ of the ‘disaster’ of daring to liberate the Iraqi peoples’ from a lawful tyranny in the first instance, and these fascists on the other. Contemplate the still on-going Iraq body count that can virtually never be brought to an end it seems to me! Consider why the Iraq body count still rolls on side-by-side the much faster growing Syrian count that has AFAIK no such flash web-site.

Many people have yet to make a clear statement of support for the Iraqis still fighting these forces and yet it has been an obviously required fight deserving of the full support of every progressive on the planet, from at the very latest the days of the free and fair elections. Instead of unity with the peoples’ of Iraq as they established their own government and state having had the Baathist army and state smashed for them, we got silence and understanding for the brave ‘resistance’; and tolerance in the ranks of the always diminishing ‘anti-war’ campaigners for the lunatic ‘anti-imperialist’, that even supported Baathists from Iraq invading other countries and subjugating even more people!

These forces may not have to be crushed in Syria (but I would not bet on it) but as Arthur said
‘They did enormous damage in Iraq until they were crushed there…’

Brian, Libya gave you a lens and still you did not openly called for U.S. intervention in Syria in 2011. The call for war was appropriate from as early as when it was apparent that a slaughter of progressives would happen, and that was already appropriate after only the first 3 or 4 thousand dead over a year ago! The casualties now number more than 40,000 dead with no end in sight.

It ought to now be clear that there was and still is a reasonable argument that an Iraqi liberation done in the manner that Syria is being done would have produced an even bloodier revolution to get to even this current pathetic level.

For example everyone on TNS ought to know that they would rather live under the Iraqi constitution and approve the manner of its negotiation compared to current Egypt. So far, the leading Constitution in the transformation of the region from the viewpoint of a recognisably leftist standpoint is Iraq! Silence, rather than note-making is the current response from people who still cling to the thought that the liberation of Iraq was a ‘disaster’, rather than the best way to launch the region-wide transformation that IS underway.

It doubt it would surprise anyone if 2013 brought forth large scale casualties right across Syria (on all sides) and still the war not be ended in a total victory over this tyranny and a country-wide bourgeois democracy established. It would not be a surprise that without a much larger scale intervention yet more battles could be fought the following year in some parts of Syria against openly fascist forces that are fully dug in and more than well armed. Whatever the time-scale there will come a time when people make the call to cease the advance and leave the Assad enclave to go its own way rather than press on; and that’s when the battles against the enemy will in many respects resemble Fallujah and be presented by the hands-off preservers of tyranny as U.S. inspired aggression, rather than the end-stages of this war to bring forth simple demands for free and fair elections. (Originally peacefully made and responded to with death) Tyranny is the problem and will remain the problem until they lay down their weapons and surrender to the revolutionaries.

People that think of themselves as leftists and yet who won’t unite and fight back for minimum level bourgeois democracy. Either obtaining it, or preserving it will never advance any more advanced revolution. They live the mistakes and lies of the isolated pseudo-left with their history going all the way back to WW2.

This century has so far been defined IMV correctly from the blow-back events of 9/11. On that day Al Qaeda declared open war not just on U.S. capitalism and the policies that it had been following in various Middle Eastern countries and beyond, but on any project of recognisably ‘western’ modernity thus treating humanity to a breathtaking example of what to expect if their side win this spectacularly declared conflict. Join them and their religion, or die at their hands was the choice offered by the Bin Laden followers who celebrated the acts of 9/11.

As far as communists and other atheists etc., were concerned death was to be ‘our’ lot. This was not a war to establish a live-and-let-live tolerant society after western imperialist policies were defeated and countries Islamic or otherwise permitted to set off on their independent way, but a war of old fashioned imperialist aggression for the conquest of countries as well as the subjugation of all manner of peoples’ to a God-given book of teachings as understood by Al Qaeda types. Whatever the causes that’s the war.

It’s worth remembering that the masses both in the west and in the Islamic world and progressives everywhere divided over what was to be done about this enemy. A feeble-minded peace movement took to the streets and opposed the very first response from the western ruling-elites of going after them in Afghanistan. The masses did not oppose the war, and this isolated so called ‘anti-imperialist’ anti-war movement looked like the isolated apologists for tyranny that we now see running a hands- off effort over Syria.

Many people thinking themselves left never seriously considered what was to be done about the Al Qaeda types. The question for them always reduced to never unite with the ruling-classes and always overthrow your own capitalists especially if you’re in the belly of the biggest beast of all time the mighty ‘superpower’ the U.S.A.. The era of imperialism had been entered (So the supposedly Leninist reasoning went) and so the WW1 approach/formula is all there is to it. Communist policies from WW2 were some sort of Mao and Stalin mistake policies that though they seemed incredibly effective for the time actually (so this strange thinking goes) just led the masses astray and into areas of unhelpful policy choices that really ought not exist in Neverland thinking. Always oppose and always work to overthrow one’s own western ruling-classes because the ruling-classes never change, and progressives ought not need to think about anything else. Never, never, never unite with the owning classes so for them WW2 popular front / unity and struggle was a mistake no less.

The masses ignored Neverland thinking and our ruling-elites blundered around in Afghanistan fighting a war without very much of a strategic focus while they tried to get their own head’s around the requirement to actually develop just that level of war winning focus. They did so by focusing on changing the very centre of the ME, and abandoned the policies that had blocked the bourgeois democratic revolution. Realist policies were dumped because tyranny was to be the target.

Despite the heady days of late 2002 early 2003 when massive demonstrations spread across the world in the period of the build-up to a war designed to destroy the Iraqi tyranny of Saddam Hussein, and despite the ongoing GFC breaking upon the developed industrialised world back in 2008 the self identified western revolutionary left has nevertheless reverted to its living dead status and essentially resumed the ongoing collapse.

What exists in any organised form as humanity debates the wars to be fought in 2013 is widely discredited as ‘Neverland’ dwellers who having attracted the best and brightest of yet another generation saw them turn away. Once you have to remain silent on any major issue your politics are finished because you are no longer in the market place of ideas. Mike Ely exemplifies that proposition as he can only carry on within his project removed from the heat of genuine debate, essentially talking to like-minded souls, as he supposedly regroups and re-conceives his particularly unattractive concepts of what 21stC communism is all about.

The short answer is that no mass of western proletariat will be stepping backwards from bourgeois democracy to unite with (let alone follow) utterly phoney ‘Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries’ like Ely and the milieu that still shows up as anti-war / anti-imperialists elements who have, as we see so clearly in the cases of Syria 2012 and Libya 2011, only discredited Marxism even further than earlier examples of the genre. Bourgeois democracy is a fraud that has to be thought about, but the pseudo-left generally treat democracy as a bourgeois fraud which is something else entirely.

If you want to get back into real politics you have to present a view in open debate. People who talk to themselves and similar sect groupings as if they are involved in a revolutionary left milieu instead of a failed ‘Neverland’ hands off everything implosion are not in politics at all.

I picked up on the recent ‘Stop the War’ piece by Abdel Bari Atwan who in conclusion said:
‘The Syrian chemical weapons were obtained to serve as deterrence against nuclear Israel, not to be used against the Syrian people or any other people. If the Syrian regime really uses such weapons against its people, something we doubt and strongly oppose, it would deserve any potential consequences. These are Syrian Arab weapons and must remain in Syrian hands. Neither the United States nor any other country has a right to seize or destroy them, as happened to Iraqi weapons, unless all weapons of mass destruction –biological and nuclear — in the Israeli military arsenal are destroyed.’

Note ‘any potential consequences’ in this context are the U.S. red-line threat, and I instantly thought to myself, well Saddam used his chemical weapons and so even by this standard earned having his vicious tyranny ended and the Iraqi peoples’ thus liberated!

Saddam wasn’t dealt with at the time and the U.S. ruling-elite were unquestionably following different policies in the ME that the left always opposed that led to the blow-back. Back then there was no western left calling for revolutionary war to get the whole region moving along the path of human progress. (Even just to the quite pathetic level of the right to form political parties and stand for elections than actually mean something) Now even the residual elements of the Stop the war coalition accept united-front style war as a just outcome for doing what Saddam did!

Opposition to the liberation of the Iraqi peoples’ was (from the left only) always on the basis that it would not end up being liberation! Opposition was because it was all a lie; that liberation would not result; that the war was about oil etc. But it did result in liberation and so the war failed is the 2nd line.Yet there is no support or even sympathy for the Iraqi government that is fighting the enemies of all progressives that I can detect except silence!

Saddam’s Chemical crimes were forgiven by some ‘left’ people when state players, for whatever reason they thought best, were prepared to act over Saddam and the Iraqi Baathist army. The giant ‘anti-war’ marches were a (Totally failed) hands off Iraq movement! The movement could not even build sufficient support to get either the U.S., British or Australian governments that led their counties to war thrown out at the next selections! It was essentially downhill for the peace movement after the troops took Baghdad.

Now we see with Aaron that all along ‘pirate’ Saddam had his supporters in the peculiar ‘peace’ movement that far from wanting his whole regime smashed and the Iraqi peoples’ liberated actually wanted him to go off and capture ports and more peoples’ and bring them under his dictate!

People who got Kuwait wrong got Iraq wrong, unless like Hitchens they changed their view on the earlier war, that really was a no-brainer just as the issue of piracy and unity with bourgeois navies to deal with them is.

With a supportive attitude to that 20plus year old war sorted out, WW2 Neverland thinking is substantially disposed of, and people can thus get to thinking about modernity generally and issues like sailing peaceful cargo ships across the high seas that might have seemed to have been sorted 200yrs ago. The war for the liberation of Syria and how to show up about it is dragging people back to thinking about the last thirty year’s, but the principle issue for right now has to be a western left showing up as demanding intervention in Syria. Hands-off from the Neverland is not the problem conservatives like Obama dithering are.


Aaron Aarons December 28, 2012 at 3:30 am

I’m not enough of an obsessive-compulsive to respond to most of Mr. Muldowney’s lengthy neo-con screed, but I can spare enough time and energy to deal with one point:

The major criminals operating in the waters off Somalia are not the Somalis who sieze ships for ransom, but the ships that take from those waters huge quantities of fish, mostly for people in the imperialist countries and their pets, and those who use those waters for dumping garbage and toxics that they can’t get rid of in places where there is any effective government. Moreover, those of us who, unlike Patrick Muldowney (patrickm) and Albert Langer (Arthur), consider Western imperialism, despite its for-now “democratic” mask, to be the main enemy of humanity, aren’t upset that Somali pirates, or anybody else, might be taking a cut off of the profits of international imperialist-dominated commerce.

It’s useful to recall that the main targets of the notorious Caribbean pirates of the 18th century were Spanish ships carrying gold and other loot from colonized ‘Latin America’. Also, those pirate ships were quite often run democratically, unlike the colonialist ships they were attacking, and unlike most ships to this day.


Aaron Aarons December 30, 2012 at 1:56 am

Again, in order to deal with the pro-imperialist nonsense of neo-con Patrick Muldowney without getting bogged down for hours, I have to deal with only one or two of his absurdities at a time:

Mr. Muldowney writes:

Once you have to remain silent on any major issue your politics are finished because you are no longer in the market place of ideas.

So we have to take positions, other than opposing Western imperialism, on what the anglophone imperialist media considers ‘major issues’ in order to be “in the market place of ideas”! Patrick Muldowney, Albert (‘Arthur’) Langer, et al. can be silent on issues that the ruling class wants us to be silent on, such as the massive imperialist slaughter in the Eastern Congo, and still be players in the ruling-class-anointed “market place of ideas”. But their silence on that issue is probably a good thing for the Congolese, since it is hard to find any issue that they do write about where their position isn’t a left cover for imperialism.

Muldowney, Langer, et al. have no legitimate place on a leftist web site, even one as mushy and compromised as The North Star.


Arthur December 26, 2012 at 2:28 am

Brian, there are many aspects of the situation in Syria that should not be looked at “through the lense of Iraq”. But the claim to fame of Jabhat Al Nusra is precisely that they are “veterans” who picked up military skills in mass murder attacks on the “persian” Shia in Iraq. They boast of their association with Al Qaeda and were driven out of Iraq by the miliary defeat of the Iraqi “resistance”.

The regime would probably have already collapsed if it was not able to exploit realistic fears among the Alawi of revenge and oppression by Sunni sectarians (not to mention similar fears among other minorities – Kurds and Christians). Suppressing sectarian attacks needs to be a high priority for the revolution. Crushing Jabhat Al Nusra would be far from premature – their war crimes and attacks on civilians have ALREADY done enormous damage.

Desire for revenge is understandably high among Syrians generally (eg an Assyrian Christian told me she would like to strangle Assad with her bare hands). There are plenty of Sunni sectarians inclined towards extending revenge to Alawites as a whole for a post-Assad regime to “manage” without necessarily having to “crush” them all. It would be impossible to “manage” them if the worst mass murderers among them are not crushed.


Brian S. December 27, 2012 at 10:40 am

@Arthur. Events in Syria are often obscure, and there’s little more obscure than the origin and status of Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), with normally authoritative sources often contradicting one another If you have reliable sources for your reading , I’d very much appreciate your posting them, as they don’t appear consistent with mine, which tell me the following:
When JN was launched at the start of this year, it proclaimed that its members had been fighting outside Syria, and this was widely interpreted as meaning involvement in Iraq (which would mean some degree of sponsorship from the Assad regime) But I can find no details of the extent or nature of this.
The evidence of JN’s association with al Qaeda appears to me tenuous. the leading analyst in this area, Elizabeth O’Bagy of the US Institute of War says, “neither AQ nor Jabhat Nusra (JN) have mentioned one another in their propaganda, suggesting that if there is indeed a link it is deliberately being played down.” (September 2012) and some other analysts agree. The most recent report suggests that they are actively denying the connection” “We are not like al-Qaeda in Iraq, we are not of them.”
While there are points of similarity between JN and AQ, mostly in their media strategy (as one analyst put it “there seems firm evidence of a connection between their media departments” – that’s the bit I label “tenuous”), there are many points of difference. Most importantly for this discussion, while JN are not very nice people they have NOT targetted civilians on a sectarian basis (what they have done is been indifferent to civilian “collateral damage” ; dealt with military prisoners on a sectarian basis; and used sectarian language).
I share your fears of a future Sunni sectarian backlash – but we should hesitate before turning fears into realities. On the evidence I have, I think (hope) this could be “managed” by forces not subject to pressure from western patrons obsessed with their own narrow agendas. And I’m not sure that JN will be the biggest problem in this context.


Arthur December 28, 2012 at 1:02 pm

This strikes me as a reliable source on Jabhat Al Nusra:

A video link is provided and described as follows:

“…it does not hide their ideology whatsoever, as they are singing about taking honour in being called a terrorist, praising their terrorism, praising Osama Bin Laden, boasting the 9-11 attack on the Twin Towers, threatening to slaughter the Alawites, and sending greetings from Al-Qaeda.”

Nothing “obscure” about that.


Brian S. December 28, 2012 at 1:36 pm

@Arthur. I don’t doubt “Free Halab’s” reliability and take his opinions very seriously. But his assessment of Jabhat al Nusra’s Iraqi origins rests on western journalists who conclude “it may be a spinoff from the al-Qaeda-affiliated “Islamic State in Iraq’ ” Indeed it may; but , by infererence it may not. Who knows? That’s what I call obscure .
The video is certainly valid evidence – but of what? Of the fact that there are 3 foreign fighters involved with them who identify with Al Qaeda. As I said, “tenuous” evidence of the charge that they are an “Al Qaeda affiliate” (whatever that means).
Anyway, the fact is that neither of us knows or has the ability to investigate this further. You can continue to advocate “crushing” while I will continue to warn against allowing the US to dtermine the Syrian opposition agenda.


Aaron Aarons December 29, 2012 at 6:20 pm

You, Brian, “will continue to warn against allowing the US to [determine] the Syrian opposition agenda.” Consistent anti-imperialists “will continue to warn against allowing the US” to play any role whatsoever, and against supporting its playing a role even when, as in most cases, we can’t prevent its doing so.


Arthur December 30, 2012 at 4:47 am

Brian, you seem to attach a lot of importance to whether or not they are an Al Qaeda affiliate (at the same time as saying “whatever that means”). That is a high priority issue for a US agenda because of Al Qaeda’s focus on striking at the “distant enemy” ie US and other Western allied targets. The US imperialist interest in democratic revolution is only an unavoidable consequence of their primary concern with removing the breeding ground for Al Qaeda et al. That US imperialist agenda even allows for leaving Afghanistan to the tender mercies of the Taliban as long as they don’t resume providing Al Qaeda with a base.

But from a left perspective what matters is not whether or not they share Al Qaeda’s focus on Western targets but whether they are enemies of the democratic revolution who need to be crushed for the revolution to succeed. It is utterly plain that Jabhat Al Nusra are enemies of the democratic revolution. “Threatening to slaughter the Alawites” means they need to be crushed.


Brian S. December 30, 2012 at 8:16 am

@Arthur: It doesn’t help logical discussion to insist on assuming precisely what is under debate – ” It is utterly plain that Jabhat Al Nusra are enemies of the democratic revolution.” Plain to you if you wish, but as I have said above obscure to me.
My uncertainty is based on some direct evidence; your certainty is based on a brief gloss of the language used by 3 JN fighters in one video. You and I reject the argument that goes “3% of the FSA are proven salafists, therefore the FSA is salafist”; why then do you insist on embracing the syllogism “0.3% of JN are proven takfirists, therefore JN is takfirist”?
You should also think through the logic of your statements more carefully: JN “needs to be crushed for the revolution to succeed”? If the crushing of the JN is a prerequisite to the victory of the democratic forces then the FSA might as well raise the white flag tomorrow. The only people doing any crushing of JN for some time to come will be regime forces.


Arthur December 30, 2012 at 10:18 am

Free Halab includes a video showing Jabhat Al Nusra opening fire on a mass demonstration against them. I had merely assumed that you understood that people who do that are enemies of the democratic revolution in the same way that the Assad regime is.

The video also showed that the people are not going to “raise the white flag”. Keep watching and you will see armed units forming to protect the crowd and chase the fascists away and the demonstration resuming with victory signs. The commentary by Free Halab describes further armed confrontation between revolutionary forces and the Jubhat Al Nusra.

They were crushed in Iraq, and they will be crushed in Syria. The more delay the more damage they will do.


Aaron Aarons December 28, 2012 at 2:42 am

The Iraqi resistance to the U.S. occupation for at least its first year was not sectarian. In fact, there was massive Shia support for the resistance of Sunni Fallujah to the first U.S. attack in April, 2004. It was only after that that serious sectarian conflict started to develop, undoubtedly with more than a little help from the U.S..


Deran December 25, 2012 at 1:09 am

Whether or not certain persons have denounced US imperialism is no excuse for Assad or defending Assad. He is a Cold War relic that Moscow and Beijing have propped up in the face of pro-democracy protests. Instead of defending Assad because Obomber is against him, to identify any active Left forces in the revolution and publicly support them. Give whatever Syrian Left there maybe some solidarity.


Pham Binh December 27, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I couldn’t agree more!!

So much of the “left” has adopted a binary Cold War approach with regards to the Arab Spring — whatever is good for U.S. imperialism is by definition bad. Who cares about what the peoples of these countries want? We, white Western anti-imperialists, know what’s best for the pro-imperialist “barbarians” with brown skin.


Cameron James December 27, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Pham’s got it wrong — we multi-racial U.S. anti-imperialists know what’s best only for internal efforts to curtail the voracious spread of U.S. domination around the globe. Quite to the contrary of Pham’s assertion our work supports the right of self-determination by the Syrian people free of interference by any outside forces, most notably those of both big and small western imperialist powers. It appears it is Pham who wishes to dictate that the Syrian people must become subserviant to these malevolent interests.


Pham Binh December 27, 2012 at 11:58 pm

The right to self-determination means nothing if you don’t support the right of Syrian revolutionaries to get arms from whomever they choose. You don’t seem to have a problem with Assad getting weapons from Eastern imperialism, i.e. Russia.


Aaron Aarons December 28, 2012 at 2:15 am

Whether you regard it as imperialist or not, Russia certainly is not trying to economically dominate the Middle East. Rather, it has been acting defensively to prevent its complete encirclement by the U.S.-led Western imperialist bloc.

But. leaving that aside, the concept of “self-determination” has never meant the right of one faction in a conflict within a dependent country to seek the help of a dominant country or countries in its struggle against the other faction. This doesn’t definitively answer the question of what the attitude of revolutionary anti-imperialist internationalists should be to those seeking or receiving such help, but support for them can’t be justified by the shibboleth of “self-determination”. Incidentally, I would not claim that the Syrian government can invoke the “right of self-determination” in its fight against an internal insurgency unless it can plausibly argue that said insurgency is materially aided by foreign forces tied to oppressor nations.

BTW, would you, Pham Binh, have also supported the “right” of Nicaraguan “revolutionaries”, a.k.a. “contras”, to get arms from the United States during their war against the Sandanista government? If not, why not?


Louis Proyect December 28, 2012 at 8:58 am

BTW, would you, Pham Binh, have also supported the “right” of Nicaraguan “revolutionaries”, a.k.a. “contras”, to get arms from the United States during their war against the Sandanista government? If not, why not?

I wonder if the Miskitos are included as contras. By Tomas Borge’s own admission, the FSLN was in the wrong in the way it treated the indigenous peoples of the Atlantic Coast from the outset. The armed suppression of their revolt was a mistake. Efforts should have been made from the outset to consult with their leadership. Unlike the Baathists, the FSLN was a genuine revolutionary movement. It is typical of the non-Marxist left clustered around MRZine, Global Research, the Marcyite groupings, et al to put a minus where the US State Department puts a plus. They see the Miskitos in the same way the Stalinists saw the Hungarian revolution of 1956 or Solidarity in Poland. Enemies because the NYT editorialized for them.

Here’s something I wrote on the Miskitos about a dozen years ago:


Aaron Aarons December 28, 2012 at 1:43 pm

I am fully aware of the complexity of the Miskito situation, and know that the Sandinistas handled it very badly at first, with an attempt to impose a homogeneous Spanish-speaking culture on the Miskitos and the English-speaking Blacks of the Atlantic coast. They were justly criticized for it by most of those on the left who knew about it. I also believe that many Miskito leaders and supporters handled the situation very badly by allowing the U.S. imperialists and their clients to use them to justify the Contra war, including by totally fabricating stories of mass murder of Miskitos by the Sandinista army. In any case, nothing would have justified anyone calling for U.S. ruling-class intervention in the internal conflicts in Nicaragua.

But you, quite typically, didn’t answer my question, Louis.

Solidarnosc in Poland was a counter-revolutionary movement working with the Vatican long after the Vatican had broken entirely with liberation theology. As for the Hungarian uprising of 1956, I’ve only in recent years come to question whether or not it was supportable, or would have just brought capitalist counter-revolution to Eastern Europe three decades earlier than it finally did occur. Given my age, I might die before I figure out the answer to that one.


Louis Proyect December 28, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Solidarnosc in Poland was a counter-revolutionary movement working with the Vatican long after the Vatican had broken entirely with liberation theology.

In other words, Sam Marcy was correct. The world is divided into two camps. When workers in the “other” camp decide to fight for higher wages through an independent trade union, they become traitors to the revolutionary cause. This, of course, is not socialism. It is Stalinism. It is really ironic that the only manifestation today of the 1930s Moscow Trial mentality comes from people who had some connection to the Trotskyist movement (of course, without understanding Leon Trotsky).


Aaron Aarons December 30, 2012 at 3:12 am

I don’t have the energy at this moment to get into a discussion of the rights and wrongs of Marcy’s ‘Global Class War’ theory. But Solidarnosc, unlike the Polish workers’ movement of a decade earlier, was a counter-revolutionary political movement dominated by the Catholic church, which has always been particularly reactionary in Poland, hiding behind some trade union demands. I think the unfolding of the counter-revolution in the following decade showed what Solidarnosc was to most of those who didn’t see it earlier. But, apparently, not to Louis Proyect.


Brian S. December 30, 2012 at 9:19 am

@Cameron James. I’m evading nothing – I’m just not repeating myself . If you read my posts on this site you can see precisely where I stand. I try to base my position on concrete analyses of concrete situations. The question of large scale bombing or invasion of Syria is only an issue in the fevered brains of conspiracy theorists – its not on any real agenda. But for the record: neither are needed for the victory of the Syrian revolution – all that is required is (or at least was: time marches on) military assistance to help counterbalance the regime’s monopoly of heavy weaponry, and that is what I support (not that I have any influence). There might be desperate circumstances (e.g. use of chemical weapons by the regime) where I would reluctantly accept other forms of western action, if that was all that was on the table). I can see no circumstances in which I would not oppose the large scale use of foreign ground troops. You’ll see from my posts that I’m currently expressing concern about US diplomatic pressures on the opposition – you “non-interventionists” will of course disappear when this becomes a real issue in the future.
The real way to combat the power of western imperialism is by supporting popular, democratic struggles against these rotten dictatorships that have already made a cozy peace with imperialism, not by providing them with cover under a spurious banner of “non-intervention”.


Brian S. December 30, 2012 at 9:54 am

@AaronAarons. Re: Solidarnosc. The argument here is more complex than you suggest. In its early phase from c.1976 to the declaration of martial law in 1981, Solidarnosc was probably the most proletarian mass movement in recent history. To describe it as “hiding behind some trade union demands”, is absurd. It was born out of a mass strike wave , and at its height incorporated nearly 10 million workers, and with an important peasant affiliate. It was highly democratic in structure, and with an significant radical current, committed to ideas of workers control.
It was certainly influence by the Polish working class’s deep catholicism (something the far left underestimated) but it wasn’t “dominated” by the Church in this period.
After martial law its characted shifted – forced underground it became a much more middle class opposition movement and the influence of the church and right-wing ideas became more powerful..
Whether you can describe it as “counter revolutionary” depends on a number of things. Solidarity mark II certainly opened the door to the full restoration of capitalism in Poland, but it didn’t preside over this process; and how “revolutionary” you regard the Polish stalinist state may be open to debate.


Louis Proyect December 30, 2012 at 11:22 am

Aaron, there is no need to get into a discussion of Sam Marcy’s politics but suffice it to say that you share the politics of the Workers World Party and the PSL. There is absolutely nothing that distinguishes you from them. As I said, the interesting thing here is how groups and individuals who come out of the Trotskyist movement have inherited the ideological baggage of the CPUSA of the 1930s and 40s. For those who are interested in a Marxist analysis of Polish Solidarity, I recommend this:


Aaron Aarons December 30, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I have at least two differences with the Marcyite groups:

1) I don’t believe in prettifying the governments and leaders whom I defend against Western imperialism, nor in giving uncritical support to more mainstream individuals and groups that also oppose imperialism in those situations.

2) I believe that it is possible to have a genuine left opposition to those who are under attack from the right by imperialism and its allies. The problem is that such oppositions have a very difficult balancing act to play (combining opposition to the leadership with support for the struggle) when they are not strong enough, as they might have been in, e.g., Spain in 1936 or even South Vietnam in 1945, to take over from centrists (i.e., Stalinists, etc.) and bourgeois nationalists (of the left or right) the leadership of the struggle against the imperialist bourgeoisie.


Louis Proyect December 31, 2012 at 3:26 am

Actually, they don’t “prettify”. They always make the record that al-Assad or Qaddafi et al were pretty bad, but hasten to add that they had to be defended against imperialism. In other words, they peddle the same line as you. In fact all of these cyrpto-Stalinist outlets say the same thing. When imperialism attacks a nation, the left has to rally around the nation under attack–which really means giving aid and comfort to some of the bloodiest dictatorships in the world. With 45,000 dead in Syria your main agenda here is to castigate the FSA, the only force capable of ending a slaughter that is one of the worst in Mideast history. In the name of anti-imperialism, you are justifying war crimes. When cluster bombs are being used against defenseless slum dwellers, you harp on the threat of radical Islam.

Aaron Aarons December 29, 2012 at 1:16 am

I realize now that my original question was to Pham Binh, not to you, Louis, so I erred in complaining that you hadn’t answered my question. My bad!

Also, I realize after reading the article of yours that you linked to here that your take on what happened between the Sandinistas and the Miskitos is not substantially different from mine, although your article includes some specifics that I either forgot or never knew.


Pham Binh December 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm

The Contras and the Free Syrian Army are not similar, especially since the latter are not receiving heavy weapons from the U.S. War it politics by other means, and if you are a Marxist you should study the politics of the classes involved in each case not apply a blanket formula to fit all situations.


Brian S. December 28, 2012 at 1:07 pm

@Cameron James. Maybe. But you don’t support the right of the Syrian people to determine their future free from interference from their immediate oppressor – the Assad regime.Your “non-interventionist” formula equates to “power to those who already hold it”, placing you firmly in the camp of bourgeois “realists” and a long way from anything I recognise as “socialist” of any flavour.


Aaron Aarons December 28, 2012 at 2:51 am

Isn’t it interesting that all the Syrians, young and old, armed and unarmed, depicted in the photos here, are male? That’s pretty much true of all the Syrians seen in photos on this site. The one exception I can recall was a female officer in the Syrian army who defected.


Brian S. December 28, 2012 at 11:26 am

Ghaith Abdul Ahad has resumed reporting for the Guardian from Aleppo. As always, his reports convey the immediacy, human reality, and complexity of the conflict in a way no other reporter has succeeded in doing. He also provides a useful corrective to oversimplified or over-optimistic left narratives.
This is his most important report:
It portrays very sharply the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of a largely irregular force involved in such a protracted conflict. But it certainly dsiposes of the “anti-interventionist” lie that the FSA is awash with money and resources from outside patrons. If anyone is looking for a graphic to illustrate that point try-
More generally, to get some feel for what life is like in Aleepo check out the whole photo sequence:


Aaron Aarons December 29, 2012 at 1:51 am

I’ve never read or otherwise heard of any genuine revolutionary movement, including any anarchist movement, that was so undisciplined as the fighters and looters portrayed in these articles. For now, my tentative opinion is that the only forces worth supporting in or around Syria are the PKK and probably Hezbollah, though there may well be some Palestinian group or even some small Syrian ones that anti-imperialists could, in principle if not practically, support.

Unfortunately, there are many situations in the world that the left can’t do much about, and this is probably one of them, at least until the imperialists get so directly involved that we can have an effect in obstructing them. But with seven billion people living (and many dying) in hundreds of countries, we can find situations where we can be of real help, if only in subverting imperialist machinations by any means available that we have the courage to use.


Brian S. December 29, 2012 at 7:35 am

@AaronAarons: Then you need to read more widely. I don’t know of many revolutionary movements that haven’t had things like this going on around them. In many ways they are behaving like a classic peasant revolutionary movement, some elements turning to “primitive accumulation” when the fighting gets bogged down. And you should study more closely what various Red guard elements got up to in the Russian revolution.
Remember what the article says – that much of the “looting” is being carried out to provide the rebel forces with basic foodstuffs (an eternal problem for irregular forces, nearly always addressed by some form of depradation on the civilian population).
The problem stems from the weak command structure of the FSA and the fact that they have had to accept all and sundry into their ranks to compensate for their lack of military technology.
Nonetheless this is a serious weakness of the rebel forces, and could lead to serious reversals if they don’t manage to restore discippline in the near future (or receive some effective support from somewheree).


Aaron Aarons December 30, 2012 at 2:56 am

Actually, I can have a certain sympathy for poor peasants looting the property of those they see as their exploiters, and I’m not shocked that an irregular army might have to loot to feed itself, especially when it’s in a hostile urban environment. But it seems that what we have, at least in rebel-occupied Aleppo, is a bunch of armed gangs that don’t “share” anything but their hatred of the existing government, and not even what they hate about that government, and certainly not what they would replace it with.


Brian S. December 30, 2012 at 8:31 am

@AaronAarons. Good for you – I’ve suspected that there is at least some residue of “old revolutionary” in there waiting to get out. But if you read the article more carefully you will see the diversity of attitudes and conduct in Aleppo – the reason we know that some individuals have gone over to self-enrichment, is because other commanders are openly protesting against it and seeking to keep to the original values of the revolution. The Syrian revolution is undoubtedly in a difficult place – but that is no reason to turn our backs on it.


Cameron James December 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Brian S. : I suppose then that you do support direct intervention by the imperialist west. If this be the case then I’d be interested to know what brand of “socialism” you subscribe to. In general terms mine says, the peoples of all nations have the right to self-determination, a right which includes choosing their own leaders and forms of governance. This means opposing any efforts by forces from other nations to substitute their will for that of the people. It is the internal struggle of the Syrian people that must determine their fate not the bombs, guns and soldiers from other nations. Your notion that this “non-interventionist” formula equates to “power to those who already hold it” is one-dimensional, it ignores the reality that accepting direct imperialist intervention to determine the outcome cedes power to another more potent oppressor and more damaging, denies any faith in building revolution from the bottom up.


Pham Binh December 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm

By your logic, the USSR and the PRC violated Viet Nam’s right to self-determination by arming Ho Chi Minh and the National Liberation Front in their fight against the U.S. and the South Vietnamese government. You would have the Syrians fight Assad with slingshots and rocks as the Palestinians fight the Israelis. Shameful.


Brian S. December 29, 2012 at 3:09 pm

@ Cameron James: I’ve had this discussion on this site before: you say that you are for “the self-determination of nations” but you really mean the “self determination of states” (just like a true-blue “bourgeois realist”). That’s the only principle that justifies your position of elevating “non-intervention” above all other considerations. Like all non interventionists you try to obscure the issue by talking about “intervention” in the abstract. I’m for the provision of stategic military equipment to a people involved in a bloody and unequal fight for real “self-determinatio”n. This does not “cede power to another more potent oppressor” – which is why western governments refuse to do it. Talk about “building revolution from the bottom up” is hypocrisy – what do you think the Syrian opposition has been doing for the last 20 months? And with considerable success – which is why their “nation” (read state) is shelling and bombing their bread queques. And what is your response – to mutter hot air. Shame on you.


Cameron James December 29, 2012 at 5:48 pm

To Pham and Brian: Both of you keep evading the question of whether you support the bombing of Syria and the invasion of Syria by foreign imperialist armies. I made it clear that this is what I believe anti-imperialism stands against. I also made it clear that the issue of where combatants get their weapons is secondary. Yet it is only this secondary contradiction and not the main contradiction you choose to address. If concern about the spreading tentacles of U.S. and NATO imperialism is shameful then I plead guilty.


Pham Binh December 30, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Invasion? No. How would that aid the revolution?

LIbya-style airstrikes I wouldn’t oppose depending on
what Syrian revolutionary forces on the ground say
they want/need.

The problem with your approach is that it’s one-dimensional: there are now two Syrias, not
one, revolutionary Syria and counter-revolutionary
Syria. “Bombing Syria” is woefully abstract; bombing
what? Why? How? The left can pretend that NATO
carpet-bombed Libya, but that doesn’t make it so in the
real world.

You oppose counter-revolutionary imperialists taking
action against counter-revolutionary tyrants and their
forces in the name of self-determination. I bet you
even support lifting the sanctions on Assad’s regime,
normalization of diplomatic relations with the regime
by the West, and oppose U.S./U.K. blocking Russian
arms shipments.

Correct me if I’m wrong.


Pham Binh December 31, 2012 at 9:15 am

I also made it clear that the issue of where combatants get their weapons is secondary. Yet it is only this secondary contradiction and not the main contradiction you choose to address.

So you subordinate concrete reality to an abstraction.

The airstrikes and ground invasions of Syria to topple Assad that keep you up at night will never materialize. It’s a figment of your imagination, an “anti-war” fantasy, and pretend politics.

The primary contradiction in Syria is between the regime and the people, and the people are winning.


Cameron James December 31, 2012 at 1:01 am

Pham Binh: you stand corrected about what i support. p.s. what on earth do you mean by counter revolutionary imperialists — do you suppose there are any other kind of imperialists? maybe so given that you defend NATO’s bombing in Libya.


Brian S. December 31, 2012 at 1:05 pm

@Cameron James: Should I take the fact that you’re resorting to this sort of pathetic logic chopping as an indication that you’re hoisting the white flag over this discussion?


Brian S. December 31, 2012 at 1:12 pm

@Cameron James: Oh, you probably won’t admit it even if you’re at the end of the road, so I’ll continue my post. One of the problems with you’re reasoning is that you confuse the subjective intentions of imperialism with their objective capacity to realise them; and attribute to western military and policy machines a super-intelligence and coherence that bears no relationship to the historical record. Imperialist powers frequently end up doing things that produce quite different results to what they intended, and often lose control of situations, even those they have brought about. That is why the method of placing a minus sign wherever the imperialist place a plus is so barren.


Pham Binh January 3, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Only a fool would fail to take advantage of contradictions and conflicts of interest between domestic and foreign counter-revolutionaries as the Libya’s revolutionaries did.


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